Outstanding Learning Intentions

The BCA teaching and learning framework is built around the acronym LEAP:

Learning intentions

I have been asked by the newly promoted @alibaamoo (my first Head of Department in over 6 years) to come up with some top tips for setting learning intentions, following some recent successful lesson observations.

So here they are:
1. Consider the activity area / sport and what you actually want the students to achieve in the lesson.

2. Once the overall aim of the lesson has been established, consider the abilities that you want the students to practice / develop, which will help support them achieve the aim. We use Create Development’s Accelerating Abilities resource, which provides us a with a clear and progressive framework of six abilities that help us structure the learning intentions.

The choice of learning focus depends upon the ability and experience of the students in your group. e.g. I may have the same overall aim (to help your team improve in competitive situations) for two separate classes, but focus one set of learning intentions on being patient and supporting each other (due to the low level of social skills in the group) and the other class might focus on creating and adapting new ideas (as they are more socially skilled and so can explore different ways to develop / improve).

These photos show the learning intentions for two separate lessons (both mixed KS3 lessons), which had near identical content planned.

We used “Beat the Buzzer” from Create Development’s excellent Learn to Compete resource, as the main activity, which students then adapted. As you can see, the learning intentions were changed to suit the needs of the group, focusing the learning on different abilities. If I had set the first group, the second groups learning intentions, they would have struggled to access the learning, therefore making little or no progress, even though the activity would have remained the same.

3. The next stage is to consider the Must, Should and Could (a BCA policy). Every student in the class should be stretched, which can’t be achieved by setting only one learning intention. Students need to be able to access the learning intentions at any point (they shouldn’t have to always cover the must, if they have already learnt it – a guaranteed way to disengage learners). Students should also be allowed to work through the learning intentions at their own pace (not taking the class through the same lesson at the same speed – going too slowly for the most able and too fast for the least able).

4. I always choose at least one learning intention (if not all of them) that someone without kit can achieve. Students soon understand that even when they are not able to be physically active in a lesson, they are still expected to engage and make progress towards achieving the learning intentions. This forms part of my plan to eradicate the term “please excuse [insert name] from doing PE” or “I can’t do PE today Sir”. I have no problem with students being excused from the physical, but I will never be OK with them being excused from the education.

5. Having taken the time to consider what the learning intentions are, then planned a series of appropriate and engaging activities that allow every student to be stretched and work towards achieving the appropriate learning intention, you are only half way to making those learning intentions meaningful / effective.

It is essential, that towards the start of the lesson, students are made aware of the learning intentions. This sets the lesson up and encourages students to start considering how they might make progress in the lesson. The advice given to staff is “learning intentions should be known to students”. As core PE students don’t have books, which some subjects may get students to write down the learning intentions, we need to rely on other strategies. We have ensured we have whiteboards in every indoor space so that they can be written up. We also use small whiteboards to take to the field or woods, or they can be written (or said on a video clip) on an Ipad. a. Another strategy is to nominate a student to remember a specific learning intention, so that at any point in the lesson, they can be recalled to anyone that needs reminding.

During the lesson, students should be given the opportunity to reflect on what progress they are making towards achieving the learning intentions. In doing so, students remain better focused on their Learning, more motivated to make progress and develop better evaluation and target setting skills.

I have found that by improving the setting of my Leaning intentions and continually getting students to assess their own progress linked to them and signpost how they are improving as an athlete (even if the learning intention themselves are not specifically physical), students get used to being successful in lessons to the extent that it becomes a habit and subsequently students arrive at lesson expecting to make progress.

When this process is replicated in every year group, in every set, in every lesson, it has a profound impact on the culture of PE in the school. A recent BANES SHEU survey (Schools and Students Health Education Unit) taken by our students showed that 96% of the students at Bath Community Academy enjoy physical activities ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a lot’. Higher than the BANES average (75%) and also higher than the national average.

It’s a far cry from the lessons that I taught at the start of my career where my learning objectives were set by me saying…

“today we will learn how to do a chest pass”.

and at the end of the lesson, I would judge success on how well they remembered my key points.

How times have changed.


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